WHAT a wonderful game: a truly marvellous, heart-stopping, blood-pounding, pulse-tingling rugby match, one of the most enthralling encounters that most of us have ever seen -- not because of the sweeping rugby, because there wasn't much of that, but because of the passion and commitment and technical skill amongst the forwards.
It shouldn't have been difficult for RTE to have lived up to the occasion, but instead the coverage was on a par with that of one of the darkest days in Irish rugby, just 20 years ago, against the same opponents, Australia. Getting the simple things right is the key to all matters, except apparently in the gravity-free world of Montrosia, where Consequence is a lake in Switzerland, and the word "lesson" is a synonym for "reduce".
That match 20 years ago is etched on the memories of most who watched it, with an oxyacetylene blow torch, reinforced by a laser-beam and a diamond-tipped chisel. Ireland went in front with a try from Gordon Hamilton with just moments to go. Instead of RTE going live for the Australian kick-off, RTE chose to show a replay of the try, amid much inane and boastful celebration: the game was in the bag!
No it wasn't. The Australian kick-off was caught by Rob Saunders. All he had to do was put the ball safely into touch, or behind the Australian defence, but instead he went for a long touch, which simply fell into the hands of an onrushing Australian back. And so while the viewers at home were still being treated to jubilant repeats of the "match-winning try", on the pitch itself, Michael Lynagh was cruising through the Irish defence to steal an Australian victory, moments before the final whistle. And viewers at home would never know what had happened, simply because RTE had failed in the single simple challenge of getting the basics right.
That should have been the lesson to remember for all time: but of course it wasn't. Move on 20 years, to the wonderful match on Saturday morning, and one of the most exciting coronary-inducing movements in Irish rugby history, when Tommy Bowe ran almost the length of the pitch almost to score, only to be stopped by the incredible Australian James O'Connor, who had run diagonally the length of the pitch to prevent an Irish try. But that didn't end the drama, because in a few moments of hysteria and confusion, the ball came to the Irish scrum half Conor Murray and he crossed to score! A try!
Except -- more drama -- it wasn't! The referee disallowed it. And whereas RTE could be forgiven for not immediately showing a replay of the non-try, it then chose not to show the non-try ever again -- either during the few minutes remaining of the match, or in the hour of post-match analysis. These were some of the most fraught, incredible moments in Irish rugby history. RTE has the technology for us to visit them and revisit them over and over again. But it didn't, presumably for the same impenetrable reason that almost anything happens in Montrosia, a mystery that ranks alongside the Sixth Secret of Fatima and Greek fiscal policy.
Maybe it is beyond the capabilities of RTE to supply both live coverage and action-replays all on the same day -- you know, the way other television stations manage it. But we're paying licence fees for this service. I know this income has to be spread thinly over the vast and utterly uneconomic salaries that RTE pays its major broadcasters, some of whom only occasionally pop into Montrosia. But it's surely not too much to expect a live match broadcast that doesn't miss a crucial phase, followed by a detailed revisiting of the most gripping but barely-seen highlights during the post-match analysis.
Even more than an all-Ireland final such as Sunday's wonderful game at Croke Park, an international rugby match is truly an all-Ireland, Bantry-to-Ballymena occasion. RTE is the national broadcaster, and national occasions -- not to speak of our involuntary TV poll-tax -- demand the highest standards.
RTE panellist Frankie Sheahan is a recent veteran of the dark and terrible Bosnia of international front-row forward play, which most of us understand even less than we do the Balkans.
And it was his analysis that we all needed after the game.
But instead George Hook seemed to ignore the observations of the former international hooker.
Now we all know Hook's role is to play the role of a know-all whose entertainment value depends on a few carefully rehearsed and punchy sound-bites and over-the-top criticism.
It is surely not going a smidge too far to ask RTE to provide full coverage of the game, followed by detailed post-match replays of the bits that were too thrilling and chaotic to understand at the time, and have the right analysis from the right person.